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Scamperfight!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 15:27
As with much of North America, around here it’s been single digits (Fahrenheit) and below for several days, which means the cats are spending almost all of their time indoors. As the days have ground on they’ve started getting crankier with each other, and so we have more-than-usual moments like this, where they tussle with […]

War on Facts and Reason... and vs Iran...

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 22:27
The predicted run-up to a U.S. Iran War is experiencing a hiccup, as massive street demonstrations in two dozen cities raise a slim possibility that theocracy might give way to a modern, moderate and reasonable-modern state. Slim, because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is large, rich, and highly motivated to keep their gravy train in motion. So what would be the best approach for a sensible, grownup and pragmatically enlightened U.S. policy?

Tweet-storms.  From a 'genius,' no less.

"In an interview, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic who now lives in exile outside Paris… warns that U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements in support of the revolt will be counterproductive. 'If the fear of outside intervention by the Trump administration and those allied with him who advocate the disintegration of Iran — namely Saudi Arabia and Israel — becomes strong enough, it will prevent a majority from sympathizing and joining the protests. In this sense, Trump’s tweets only serve to deflate the movement.” ...

Donald Trump and his cabal are very aware of this. Their worst nightmare is that a moderate revolution in Iran would erase all justification for a US-Iran War -- their goal for years, but now propelled by the urgency of getting a distraction from Mueller and all that. Compare U.N. Ambassador Nikki Hayley's recent harangue listing provocations by Iran -- none of which bear up under scrutiny -- and compare it to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech explaining the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war with Iraq - a pretext that all now know (and even Donald Trump admits) to have been based on lies and fabrications.
This article does a good job, but goes nowhere near far enough, tying together the cords that tauten tighter, every day, dragging us toward pre-planned disaster. Read it… then see far more detail here… and later here… where I describe how many factions would benefit, including the Iranian mullahs. And of course, the real master of the White House.
Even if you credit nothing else I say about this, remember that every Republican president after Eisenhower has rushed gleefully into war. Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Junior, and now the Trumpists... and you don't see a pattern of concocted war? Every single one. (Except Ford, who oversaw our final defeat in Vietnam.) 

Madness. And you are complicit, if you don't at least read up on this looming debacle, and speak up.
== Okay so you got your Big Tax Cut Grab; what now? ==
Brad deLong asks the same question posed in a few chapters of my novel, Existence - whether those in the oligarchy, who are pushing so hard for a return to feudalism, are being smart... or very shortsighted. 

In Existence, I portray savvy trillionaires holding conferences to appraise how a new aristocracy might rule not-stupidly (for the first time, ever.) Here, deLong makes crystal clear the alternative:
"In the America the politicians you support are building, it may well become the case that one day your grandchildren are in the center of a web of political influence, and the next day they will find themselves not: Some of them will be involuntary guests at the Wichita Ritz-Carlton" - (referring to the hotel in Riyadh where some of the world's richest princes are now held, by a state they thought they had controlled) - "The rest will try to make a run for it in the Learjet, or in the rubber boat.
"So is it really wisdom on your part to want to win this round?
"To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur."
Interrupting, let's be clear: the leaders of the anti-west alliance know this. They are not rebuilding idealistic-if-bloody communism, but a fascism in which oligarchs may amass billions and live lavishly, but the state can expropriate and cut throats at any moment. (The Nazis did it to the Prussian junkers caste and to the industrialists, whenever they liked. It now happens annually in Russia.) Those who believe that strong socialism or traditional aristocratic feudalism are possible alternatives are dreaming. It's either true-liberal middle class Transparent Democracy or fascism, as deLong continues explaining to today's shortsighted American plutocrats:
"The political descendants of the politicians today you support who lead chants of “lock her up“ will be the greatest threat to the liberty, the wealth, and perhaps even the lives of those of your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are plutocrats. Look ahead into the future a little bit. Do not focus on the pile of moolah under your nose."
Looking beyond their nose is what I portray some "trillies" doing, in Existence. (Have a look at the amazing video preview-trailer, with incredible art by Patrick Farley!)
Alas, it seems increasingly clear that the intelligent aristocratism I depicted there is simply not an option. Nowadays, those zillionaires who are smart - whose wealth derived from creating new goods and services - are also Democrats (with a few libertarians). In contrast, the oligarchs backing today's putsch are mostly squatting atop piles that derived from rentier-inactivity (hence favored treatment for passive income in the tax bill), or golgafrincham finance parasitism, or inheritance or crony market manipulation. They have feral cleverness, but no sapient sense of history. Trying to show them the big picture, deLong is wasting his breath.
Do read deLong's whole short essay. Alas, these foxes now run the hen house. The confederacy has conquered Washington. And their stupidity can be lethal all around.

== The War on Facts and Reason: the Entire Right… and chunks of the Far-Left, too! ==
The Right Side’s war on science gets utterly open and explicit, with Donald Trump openly declaring the Bannonite meme of a "deep state," declaring war not just on science and scientists, but all the civil servants, law professionals, intel agencies and military officers who avow that they believe in facts.

 You've seen reports on the Trump Administration muzzling researchers, cancelling peer reviewed reports they dislike, Accusing (without any evidence) scientists of engaging in vast, conspiratorial hoaxes... and now this Orwellian policing of speech. But buried in this article is the real howler!
Instead of the forbidden words, "analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of 'science-based' or ­'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is, 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes..."
Truly, the horror is now clear. Always obsessed with symbolism and incantations, the confederates are now reaching out to the other group who seeks to police science on the basis of "community standards" -- the far, postmodernist left.
Make no mistake. This notion of "community standards of truth" is a roar against objective reality itself. And while it pervades the length and breadth and all heights of the confederate madness that has hijacked American Conservatism, there is a far-fringe on the "left" that is gleeful, eager for the radicalization, the resurrection of symbol-based catechisms that George Orwell described in Homage to Catalonia.
The oligarchs who are funding all of this think they will win the Prize - a return to obligate inherited feudal lordship, as I depict in EXISTENCE. But they are stirring something monstrous at the other end of the spectrum. And if they succeed at rousing a True Left from its slumber, then they will inherit the wind.
As for the left:  
Repeatedly some of you demand that I “name one example of the left being crazy or anti science or anti-western”… and each time I stare, boggled that the Union side in this civil war must be hobbled by such ignorant people. Jiminy, ask anyone from Poland, Hungary and so on, how bad the left has been – or read Orwell!

Hey, you’re all about diversity, right? Not the dogmatic uniformity we see among confederates? Then why can’t you admit your side has a wide spectrum? And some parts of that spectrum are just plain nuts?

This is one of the most cogent brief articles I’ve read in some time, dissecting the logical lunacy of far-leftist postmodernism and how it collaborates – in a sly alliance – with the much larger insanity on today’s entire-right. No, it doesn’t go into an analysis of Derridan Semiotics or Sokal Hoaxes and all that. Just the core conceit that everything is subjective – there’s no objective reality - and science is an evil white-male-elitist plot!
Read this! As we’ve seen with Trump and his Geppetto, you don’t need an explicit plan and a handshake, for different enemies of the West to collaborate toward our demise. Yes, 99% of our attention needs to go to stopping the reinstatement of feudalism… which would end us all.
In contrast, the postmodernist, far-left loons are – for now – a minor, 1% irritation, who damage our fight primarily by giving Sean Hannity anecdotes to shriek-at. BFD. We can shrug them off.  For now.
But never lose your ability to swivel your head, alert for danger in all directions. Don’t just stare at the velociraptor in front of you! Trump’s extravagant theater has many purposes and one of them is to resurrect the crazy left. Young people have sent Google searches on “Karl Marx” skyrocketing, recently -- a zombie we thought safely buried. Steve Bannon giggles happily, rubbing his hands as it shambles from the grave.
Another way to look at it:
Sure, today’s mad ENTIRE right CONSISTS of troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.  

But the FAR left CONTAINS troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.

FAR is not the same as ENTIRE. And CONTAINS is nowhere near as bad as CONSISTS. So?
Take note of a tactical advantage: when you avow that your side does have a far-loony fringe that hates science, and say “we’re aware of our side’s few loonies… why can’t you conservatives do the same?”… that increases your credibility!
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

War on Facts and Reason

Contrary Brin - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 22:27
The predicted run-up to a U.S. Iran War is experiencing a hiccup, as massive street demonstrations in two dozen cities raise a slim possibility that theocracy might give way to a modern, moderate and reasonable-modern state. Slim, because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is large, rich, and highly motivated to keep their gravy train in motion. So what would be the best approach for a sensible, grownup and pragmatically enlightened U.S. policy?

Tweet-storms.  From a 'genius,' no less.

"In an interview, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic who now lives in exile outside Paris… warns that U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements in support of the revolt will be counterproductive. 'If the fear of outside intervention by the Trump administration and those allied with him who advocate the disintegration of Iran — namely Saudi Arabia and Israel — becomes strong enough, it will prevent a majority from sympathizing and joining the protests. In this sense, Trump’s tweets only serve to deflate the movement.” ...

Donald Trump and his cabal are very aware of this. Their worst nightmare is that a moderate revolution in Iran, would erase all justification for the US-Iran War -- their goal for years, but now propelled by the urgency of getting a distraction from Mueller and all that. Compare U.N. Ambassador Nikki Hayley's recent harangue listing provocations by Iran -- none of which bear up under scrutiny -- and compare it to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech explaining the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war with Iraq - a pretext that all now know (and even Donald Trump admits) to have been based on lies and fabrications.
This article does a good job, but goes nowhere near far enough, tying together the cords that tauten tighter, every day, dragging us toward pre-planned disaster. Read it… then see far more detail here… and later here… where I describe how many factions would benefit, including the Iranian mullahs. And of course, the real master of the White House.
Even if you credit nothing else I say about this, remember that every Republican president after Eisenhower has rushed gleefully into war. Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Junior, and now the Trumpists... and you don't see a pattern of concocted war? Every single one. (Except Ford, who oversaw our final defeat in Vietnam.) 

Madness. And you are complicit, if you don't at least read up on this looming debacle, and speak up.
== Okay so you got your Big Tax Cut Grab; what now? ==
Brad deLong asks the same question posed in a few chapters of my novel, Existence - whether those in the oligarchy, who are pushing so hard for a return to feudalism, are being smart... or very shortsighted. 

In Existence, I portray savvy trillionaires holding conferences to appraise how a new aristocracy might rule not-stupidly (for the first time, ever.) Here, deLong makes crystal clear the alternative:
"In the America the politicians you support are building, it may well become the case that one day your grandchildren are in the center of a web of political influence, and the next day they will find themselves not: Some of them will be involuntary guests at the Wichita Ritz-Carlton" - (referring to the hotel in Riyadh where some of the world's richest princes are now held, by a state they thought they had controlled) - "The rest will try to make a run for it in the Learjet, or in the rubber boat.
"So is it really wisdom on your part to want to win this round?
"To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur."
Interrupting, let's be clear: the leaders of the anti-west alliance know this. They are not rebuilding idealistic-if-bloody communism, but a fascism in which oligarchs may amass billions and live lavishly, but the state can expropriate and cut throats at any moment. (The Nazis did it to the Prussian junkers caste and to the industrialists, whenever they liked. It now happens annually in Russia.) Those who believe that strong socialism or traditional aristocratic feudalism are possible alternatives are dreaming. It's either true-liberal middle class Transparent Democracy or fascism, as deLong continues explaining to today's shortsighted American plutocrats:
"The political descendants of the politicians today you support who lead chants of “lock her up“ will be the greatest threat to the liberty, the wealth, and perhaps even the lives of those of your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are plutocrats. Look ahead into the future a little bit. Do not focus on the pile of moolah under your nose."
Looking beyond their nose is what I portray some "trillies" doing, in Existence. (Have a look at the amazing video preview-trailer, with incredible art by Patrick Farley!)
Alas, it seems increasingly clear that the intelligent aristocratism I depicted there is simply not an option. Nowadays, those zillionaires who are smart - whose wealth derived from creating new goods and services - are also Democrats (with a few libertarians). In contrast, the oligarchs backing today's putsch are mostly squatting atop piles that derived from rentier-inactivity (hence favored treatment for passive income in the tax bill), or golgafrincham finance parasitism, or inheritance or crony market manipulation. They have feral cleverness, but no sapient sense of history. Trying to show them the big picture, deLong is wasting his breath.
Do read deLong's whole short essay. Alas, these foxes now run the hen house. The confederacy has conquered Washington. And their stupidity can be lethal all around.

== The War on Facts and Reason: the Entire Right… and chunks of the Far-Left, too! ==
The Right Side’s war on science gets utterly open and explicit, with Donald Trump openly declaring the Bannonite meme of a "deep state," declaring war not just on science and scientists, but all the civil servants, law professionals, intel agencies and military officers who avow that they believe in facts.

 You've seen reports on the Trump Administration muzzling researchers, cancelling peer reviewed reports they dislike, Accusing (without any evidence) scientists of engaging in vast, conspiratorial hoaxes... and now this Orwellian policing of speech. But buried in this article is the real howler!
Instead of the forbidden words, "analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of 'science-based' or ­'evidence-based,' the suggested phrase is, 'CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes..."
Truly, the horror is now clear. Always obsessed with symbolism and incantations, the confederates are now reaching out to the other group who seeks to police science on the basis of "community standards" -- the far, postmodernist left.
Make no mistake. This notion of "community standards of truth" is a roar against objective reality itself. And while it pervades the length and breadth and all heights of the confederate madness that has hijacked American Conservatism, there is a far-fringe on the "left" that is gleeful, eager for the radicalization, the resurrection of symbol-based catechisms that George Orwell described in Homage to Catalonia.
The oligarchs who are funding all of this think they will win the Prize - a return to obligate inherited feudal lordship, as I depict in EXISTENCE. But they are stirring something monstrous at the other end of the spectrum. And if they succeed at rousing a True Left from its slumber, then they will inherit the wind.
As for the left:  
Repeatedly some of you demand that I “name one example of the left being crazy or anti science or anti-western”… and each time I stare, boggled that the Union side in this civil war must be hobbled by such ignorant people. Jiminy, ask anyone from Poland, Hungary and so on, how bad the left has been – or read Orwell!

Hey, you’re all about diversity, right? Not the dogmatic uniformity we see among confederates? Then why can’t you admit your side has a wide spectrum? And some parts of that spectrum are just plain nuts?

This is one of the most cogent brief articles I’ve read in some time, dissecting the logical lunacy of far-leftist postmodernism and how it collaborates – in a sly alliance – with the much larger insanity on today’s entire-right. No, it doesn’t go into an analysis of Derridan Semiotics or Sokal Hoaxes and all that. Just the core conceit that everything is subjective – there’s no objective reality - and science is an evil white-male-elitist plot!
Read this! As we’ve seen with Trump and his Geppetto, you don’t need an explicit plan and a handshake, for different enemies of the West to collaborate toward our demise. Yes, 99% of our attention needs to go to stopping the reinstatement of feudalism… which would end us all.
In contrast, the postmodernist, far-left loons are – for now – a minor, 1% irritation, who damage our fight primarily by giving Sean Hannity anecdotes to shriek-at. BFD. We can shrug them off.  For now.
But never lose your ability to swivel your head, alert for danger in all directions. Don’t just stare at the velociraptor in front of you! Trump’s extravagant theater has many purposes and one of them is to resurrect the crazy left. Young people have sent Google searches on “Karl Marx” skyrocketing, recently -- a zombie we thought safely buried. Steve Bannon giggles happily, rubbing his hands as it shambles from the grave.
Another way to look at it:
Sure, today’s mad ENTIRE right CONSISTS of troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.  

But the FAR left CONTAINS troglodyte-screeching dogmatists who wage war on science and hate the American tradition of steady, pragmatic reform, and who would impose their prescribed morality on you.

FAR is not the same as ENTIRE. And CONTAINS is nowhere near as bad as CONSISTS. So?
Take note of a tactical advantage: when you avow that your side does have a far-loony fringe that hates science, and say “we’re aware of our side’s few loonies… why can’t you conservatives do the same?”… that increases your credibility!
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Obnoxious Twits and Conventions

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 14:54
I wrote this tweet the other day about a minor dustup in the science fiction community: So a convention pulled an obnoxious twit's attending membership and as a result a bunch of other obnoxious twits are boycotting the convention, and now I think every convention has an easy template for ridding itself of obnoxious twits. […]

New Books and ARCs, 1/5/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 17:32
A new year, a new stack of books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Which of these works would you like to be one of your first reads of 2018? Tell us in the comments!

Thoughts on My 30th High School Reunion

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 15:07
This last October I went to my 30th reunion at my high school, and had a very lovely time of it; I did a reading for my former classmates and others, hung around with old friends and generally enjoyed the company of people I had known for decades now. My school asked me to write […]

Strange visitors from beyond...

Contrary Brin - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 15:05
Oumuamua surprises! The first confirmed and clearly observed visitor from interstellar space has everyone agog. Instruments like ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile show that this unique object - traveling through space for millions of years - appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal content object. It varies dramatically in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. About ten times as long as it is wide, Oumuamua exhibits a complex, convoluted shape... So let me guide you through some aspects of this new scientific wonder.
1) Breakthrough Listen used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to aim SETI instruments at Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid visitor that - (sorry) shows every sign of being just a rock.  And so, despite its weird - even spaceship-like elongated (cigar-ish) profile - is probably not a giant space-probe, like Arthur C. Clarke (who turned 100 December 17) depicted in Rendezvous With Rama. Or Greg Bear’s even more spectacular Thistledown, from Eon.
Still, I have to wonder… have the SETI guys aimed their scopes also at the direction Oumuamua came from? And where (after a hyperbolic swing past our sun) it’s now going? Might our sun have been a swing-by course correction?
2) Note that this won’t be the last! Our instrumentalities have improved so much that we should be spotting more such interstellar visitors from now on, perhaps yearly!  And yes, you are a member of a great, scientific civilization that does stuff like this!
3) At first, astronomers were shocked to see no signs of a comet-like tail from outgassing, as Oumuamua swung past the sun. Theory suggests that the vast majority of small objects flung from planetary systems should be icy.
But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface. The way that 'Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to icy objects from our own Solar System that are covered with a dry crust. Perhaps carbon rich molecules fused by long exposure to interstellar ultraviolet.
Saving ego for last, let me point out that this model - icy small bodies accumulating layers of insulating dust that choke off outgassing over time, happens to be - in the words of a Monty Python character - “mine.”
My own doctoral work at UCSD, way back in 1981, first laid down the theory and simulations of accumulated dust layers or mantles on comets and other bodies, eventually putting them to 'sleep.'
My scientific work has been sparse, as I pursued a wide variety of careers. But a few of my hits might merit remembering.
== More space news ==
My friend William Schopf of UCLA found what he claimed to be the oldest known example of life on Earth, dated back 3.5 billion years. Some doubted the objects, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, were actually bacteria and microbes. Since then, technology has improved. Schopf and his colleague were able to connect specific carbon-isotope ratios to specific fossil shapes—essentially, enabling them to identify a handful of different ancient living beings. After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane. Wow.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the TV series “Closer To Truth” gets to ask deep questions of some pretty deep minds. I was privileged to be interviewed for: How should we approach the question of 'are we alone?' "David Brin walks through the logic, along with Jill Tarter, Frank Drake, Francisco Ayala, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrum and others. "
The Planetary Society (I'm on the Advisory Board) is running a contest for Haikus About Space! Here's one - translated from the original dolphin-Trinary:

Oceans everywhere!Ice roof sheltered, life……may fill the cosmos.
A newly discovered pair of massive black holes, orbiting each other very closely in just 80 or so days, has been discovered in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Preliminary estimates suggest the pair will collide and merge into one black hole “in as little as 350 years or as much as 360,000 years.” When that happens, the show (especially in gravitational radiation) should be very impressive.   (Hm, well, on more careful reading…  we’re seeing them through Andromeda. They may be 2.6 billion light-years behind (1000 times farther away than the Andromeda Galaxy! Still a great show... but somewhat less dazzling.)
A “zombie” star that appears to have gone supernova… and survived.  Perhaps even several times. Really weird.
A new planet in the neighborhood! In 71,000 years, it will become our closest neighbor, and Ross 128 will be the closest temperate planet.
Meanwhile… preliminary evidence for a second planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. I’m a little doubtful.
In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally get a good look at this gun
Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 
The first and only cat sent into space – Felicette – was sent up by France in 1963. 
A cool new telescope company has a Kickstarter. Skip the expensive and complex secondary optics and use the prime focus to do images digitally.  Alas,  in fact, their imitation of Newtonian optics for viewing is silly. Skip to a VR goggles method. Contact me, I know exactly how to do it and who can implement!
Another player!  Spaceflight startup Vector — which specializes in micro-rockets — plans to launch its first orbit-bound vehicles from Virginia in mid-2018.  The Vector-R is a four-story-high vehicle that can loft satellites weighing up to 145 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The other vehicle is the Vector-H, which is larger, and capable of carrying 350 pounds to LEO.  They hope for hundreds of launches per year.


== Nukes in Space ==
Interesting developments in space nuclear power: “NASA is developing reactors for spacecraft propulsion and for a planetary power source, with the goal of having both available for a crewed mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. But although the agency is advancing a reactor technology that uses low-enriched uranium (LEU), containing less than 20% of 235U for propulsion, its planetary power source, known as Kilopower, utilizes weapons-grade uranium enriched to 90% or more 235U.
“Nonproliferation advocacy organizations have objected to the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU, material containing 20% or more 235U); they say an LEU design, although it would require more time to develop, would be feasible and consistent with US policy.”
Solar energy’s attractiveness is reduced on the Red Planet  because the solar flux reaching Mars is much less than Earth’s and varies greatly depending on the season and geographic position. In addition, Martian dust storms can last for months. Although solar flux on the Moon is comparable to that received on Earth, nonpolar missions would experience a long lunar night period of half a month, which would require massive energy storage.

There is also testing of a nuclear rocket.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Hey, You Know What’s Fun?

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 12:17
Reading a TV script based on something you wrote and thinking, “that’s a bit of all right, that is.” Can’t tell you more at the moment, I’m afraid. But I think you’re going to enjoy it one day. Enjoy your Thursday!

The 2018 Awards Consideration Post

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 20:03
Another year, another quick post to let you know what work I have for you to consider for awards and such. Ready? Here we go: Best Novel: The Collapsing Empire (3/21/17; Tor Books; Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor) Best Related Work/Non-fiction/Collection: Don’t Live For Your Obituary: Advice, Commentary and Personal Observations on Writing, 2008-2017 (12/31/17; Subterranean […]

Our mother ocean in peril

Contrary Brin - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 00:13
At the recent FiRe Conference I got to sit down with my friend, the mighty ocean explorer Sir Roger Payne, who manages to maintain his optimism, despite regularly seeing - with both eyes and instruments - the terrible damage we’ve done to Earth’s resilient ecosystem. Roger knows that doomcasting is an indignant habit that hinders us from attacking problems with confident optimism.  Optimism based on some real positive news! Like the growing populations of whales, who provide some of the most important fertilization services, at sea.
Here is an online article that proposes an assertive, ocean-focused program aimed at two ends: (1) Fertilizing barren regions for nature and food production. (A majority of ocean area is “desert” some of it caused by humans hunting whales almost to extinction.) And (2) ideally drawing lots of carbon out of the atmosphere. 
“David Brin points out that ocean-fertilization is the inverse of irrigation. You are adding “land” to water in the form of nutrients.” 

Yes, though I've pointed out that it’s more complex. Across 8000 years, humans have “added water to land” and crude irrigation was disastrous in those regions with poor drainage, where salts accumulate and cause deserts. In contrast, some sites with good drainage and fine traditions have been irrigated for thousands of years, without harm.

See The Planet Remade: How Geo-engineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton.
The sea equivalent of stimulating life is “adding land to water” - as nature herself does, with upwelling currents off Chile and the Grand Banks. Alas, our 'contributions' went badly in regions with poor drainage, like the Caspian and Black Seas, which have been killed by agricultural fertilizer runoff… and the Mediterranean and Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which are under dire threat. The most vibrant parts of the ocean are where nutrient upwellings feed into strong currents. There are some strong current areas that could benefit from human supplied nutrients.
And yes, this may qualify as “geo-engineering” or G.E. And yes, all geo-engineering proposals merit skeptical criticism and burdens of proof, especially of reversibility!  Ideally, any G.E. proposal should be one that can be tested in small scale and hence inherently recoverable experiments. Near term, modest efforts at ocean fertilization satisfy those requirements. But this article takes the notion much, much farther, into territory of science fiction. (And is that a bad thing?)
== Mother of Waters ==
The Futurism site has a series of interesting articles on how our world’s habitability might be preserved and/or we might terraform other worlds.
The most-feared consequence of climate change is not an acceleration of unstable weather. Oh, we’re seeing that, all right, with heightened hurricane seasons, gyrations in El Niños, wildfires, glacier loss and arctic-conveyor-freezing winters...

...as well as ocean acidification (see more on this, below.) 

Nor is the biggest danger from spreading deserts and the swarm of tropical diseases now targeting the U.S. South.
No, our top worry is a “blurp”… the possibility that the warming trend might trigger release of methane trapped in sub-sea ices or in tundra or even in regular topsoil.  Now see how the latter of these fears is now utterly proved by careful and repeated scientific studies. 

Now the good news.   “All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. “Lesser” emitters are another story. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels." (See more below.)

The lesson? Coal barons, oil sheiks, petro boyars and their parroting media fought to delay this, but innovative men and women refused to be held back. Some of you are among those heroes!  And some are among the villains who tried to prevent these breakthroughs that might yet save us. 

If you voted for the madmen who are now raising carbon fuel subsidies and trying to cripple sustainables, I have three thoughts for you: (1) You are too late. (2) You - yes you - are among the villains. And (3) this time, we'll remember. And your homes will go to climate refugees.

Oh, here’s that link about terraforming.

== Returning to the sea... ==

A rich source of inspiring indie documentaries is FiRe Films. For example, seven years ago I touted a great film “Chasing Ice,” which tracked with dramatic time lapse photography the catastrophic collapse of glaciers all over the globe, including huge losses along the entire coast of Greenland. A spectacular movie in its own right, filled with courage, suspense and adventure, it also showed with utter decisiveness the effects of global warming. 

(Alas, the Denialist Cult is expert at moving goal posts. The very same folks who cried “prove to us there’s any warming!” then shifted their cant and yelled, “sure it's warming! Now prove it’s not natural!” And when proof is provided, the shout turns to: "Squirrel!")

So now I’ve viewed a sequel, “Chasing Coral,” a gorgeous work of adventure/nature film-making that was unveiled at the 2017 FiRe Conference in Utah, in October. It also nails decisively how two effects of climate change — warming and acidification — are killing the vast, rich seascapes that are the nurseries for a majority of sea life. A feast of beauty, admiration, adventure and deep worry.

And let’s be clear, the acidification can only have come from human generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ask your denialist cultist cousin to explain it otherwise and he can’t, because Fox always changes the subject when acidification comes up. (Seriously, say those two words - ocean acidification - to any Fox-cultist and invite them to measure the change themselves with a Ph meter. Watch them blanch, then point offstage, shouting "squirrel!)

Other films sponsored by FiRe include some we sampled about young heroin addicts, one about the poisons spread by algae blooms, of the sort spreading off the Texas Gulf Coast, and one about egg donors. Some of the films are available on the FiRe Films channel. Ideally, subscribe, or get your company to do a corporate membership.
== Remember to keep hope! ==

Again: “Offering a much-needed sign that human actions can be effective against climate change, new data published by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) shows that global CO2 emissions largely remained static in 2016. All major emitters worldwide, except India, stayed stagnant or fell in their CO2 emissions, due to increased use of renewables and decreased coal use; the US and Russia saw about a two percent decrease, while China, European Union states, and other G20 member emissions remained static. Other nations, mainly developing countries, still have rising CO2 emissions levels.” - reports an article on Futurism.

Of course, even static emission levels mean that massive amounts of CO2 are being dumped into the atmosphere annually; more than 35 billion tons were released in 2016 alone. This CO2 is responsible for warmer ocean and air temperatures, plus more extreme, damaging weather, from droughts to hurricanes. Moreover, other greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere—particularly methane, from agriculture and the oil and gas industries—rose by 1 percent in 2016. 
The good news: the Koch brothers’ sunk investments in coal are doomed to well-deserved worthlessness. Against the resistance of troglodytes, solar and wind and storage are taking off at rates never imagined even by optimists.
The bad news? Starting with Ronald Reagan tossing solar panels off the White House roof, then canceling Jimmy Carter’s energy research programs, the trogs managed to profit by delaying this day, perhaps by a crucial decade. Indeed, some deem or recent progress to be too late. At any moment, if the arctic seas and tundra “blurp” their methane, we may fall into a catastrophic tipping point. And even if we evade that calamity, there will be harsh times, before the climate finally stabilizes.  Someday we may get a billion climate refugees...

But let us celebrate tentatively. London School of Economics climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern told The Guardian: “All countries have to accelerate their emissions reductions if the Paris goals are to be met. (But) we can now see clearly that the transition to a low-carbon economy is at the heart of the story of poverty reduction and of the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Collapsing Empire Out in Paperback Today

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 01/02/2018 - 09:39
Well, here’s a nice way to start the new year: The mass market paperback version of The Collapsing Empire is out today in the US and Canada, available at your local indie and chain bookstores as well as through your favorite online retailers. If you’ve got gift cards or certificates to burn, this is a […]
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